Retailers appeal to customers’ buying habits with incentives in order to outsell their competition. This trend has been in practice since the beginning of time. Over years, retail has continued to evolve, and following the birth of ecommerce in the early 1990s, loyalty strategies have made a migration to the digital platforms with definite motives. With all of the online and offline rewards programs emerging every passing moment, one might begin to wonder where exactly the differences lay between them. A detailed study of both the platforms leads to a clearer opinion about the debate that has raised quite a few opinions.
Offline Loyalty Programs:
Location has always held significant consideration on its part, for customers who choose to purchase products in-store, rather than an online purchase. However, additional expenses may be associated with visiting a particular store to purchase a certain product. Although, customers tend to come back on their own simply due to the close proximity to a specific store, retailers must still be aiming to appeal to their customers’ best interests with their loyalty programs. Following are some of the strategies tailored to benefit the offline sales environment:
- Social Sharing: High chances prevail that customers will browse through physical stores through social networks before the purchase. The current generation of customers, in particular, spend a considerable amount of time on mobile devices, checking into social media accounts and with such exposure, harnessing social sharing power is a genius way to entice customers to shop with you. Rewarding customers for sharing their experiences with the products on platforms like Twitter and Instagram gives retailers the opportunity to create brand influencers while incorporating their brand into the everyday social fabric of their customer base.
- VIP Tiers: VIP tiers allow retailers to acknowledge and evaluate their best customer base with exclusive benefits and rewards. Simply effective at increasing customer engagement, VIP tiered programs give the the customers an opportunity to earn more, which in turn encourages them to spend more. VIP programs have emerged as an excellent solution for brick-and-mortar retailers, because once a customer is committed, they are more likely to engage themselves with a specific store. It’s the perfect example of how exclusive benefits, as opposed to discounts, set a brand apart from the herd.
Online Loyalty Programs: One of the most significant reasons people prefer to shop online is discount prices, which doesn’t come as a surprise given the fact that many such people don’t even have a savings account. Online shopping has taken the commercial merchants by storm, and is soon to dominate, which raises a need for loyalty programs to ensure a customer base. With the facility to shop around and buy at the lowest price in a matter of seconds, there are many ways ecommerce merchants can work to keep their customers hooked.
- VIP Tiers: VIP Tiers is a perfect example of some of the strategies which can be incorporated in both online and offline platforms. Tiers are especially known to industries like supplements and cosmetics because they have intense levels of competition. Brands that reward customer loyalty with benefits and transactional rewards are more appealing in a more obvious sense. Offering customers access to exclusive events or product launches are some of the many ways that retailers can give recognition to their VIP customers, considering that these loyal customers are responsible for a majority of their business.
- Engagement Touch Points: One must provide the customers with ways to engage outside of the shopping cart if one wishes to make his online brand stand out. With a rising trend of using smartphones for all manner of online activity, people are searching for experiences that complement their lifestyle. Referral programs are an excellent way to encourage customers to engage with one’s brand throughout their everyday necessities, and can be seen as the evolution of the old school reward systems.
No matter what you’re selling, where’re you’re selling; whether it’s online or offline, a loyalty program is a proven way to acquire a huge customer base. Through exclusive rewards, beneficiary initiatives, and social awareness, one can treat customers to a lifestyle and loyalty experience unlike anywhere else, making one’s brand a priority for them, every time they go shopping.
Brands have been utilizing loyalty and rewards program within their customer community to keep their customers happy and well away from competition. From loyalty cards, discount coupons to scratch & win offers, brands have been using rewards as an incentive to create a customer base and also keep them loyal to the brand.
In the new digital age, such rewards have been upgraded. Digital rewards are the new ‘in’ thing that bring many advantages to both the customer and the brand. From making it easier for the customers to get their rewards to spreading the word about a brand, digital rewards have given the marketplace a new tool to expand brand reach and loyalty.
Digital rewards are both diverse and abundant. These are a few up-and-coming rewards that are catching the eye of the marketers:
According to a study by Mercator Advisory Group, it was found that in 2015 most of the money spent on gift cards was redeemed as eGifts. With the heavy increase in digital buying, it makes more sense for brands to motivate customers through eGifts.
Moreover, brands can also use eGifts to rewards employees to acknowledge their hard work on projects or commemorate special occasions. This builds the confidence in the employees and helps with brand loyalty.
Coupons and codes
With greater numbers opting for online buying, it makes sense for brands to give their offers and discounts in the virtual world. Coupons and codes that are sent exclusively to loyal customers makes them feel special and helps retain them.
Incentives like cash backs and discounts, mobile wallets have taken online marketing by storm. Creating a niche where customers are incentivised for their buying behaviour has only increased the appeal of mobile wallets.
Benefits of digital rewards program
Increases the brand’s value
The power of digital rewards is that it gives the customer a sense of empowerment. With every amount they save or a prize they win, it helps build an image of a brand that it is not in business for the profits. It builds the image of a brand that genuinely cares about its customers.
Provides the customers with more choices
The brand gives the customers the option of choosing the kind of rewards they want. Either it would be as loyalty points that can be redeemed for discounts or gifts or in the form of promotional codes that are given to an exclusive customer community.
Each reward program is made around the customer, their preferences, previous encounters with the brand and their redemption history. This makes the program more relevant and useful to the customer.
Unlike the days when one had to send a letter to a brand with a token to get a gift, the digital rewards program helps both brands and customers get instant rewards. As soon as a customer provides a preferred action (like, tweet), the customer is provided with their reward. It needs less effort from the customer too.
Get rewarded anytime, anywhere
There is no limit to the application of digital rewards. People can be rewarded just by signing up for a newsletter and this can be done from anywhere. Because of the high mobility of the digital market, people can redeem their rewards just about anywhere.
Brings positive interaction between brand and customer
Everybody likes free gifts. Digital rewards help people collect more rewards doing what they do the most nowadays – being a part of the social media sphere. Reward programs also help in spreading the news about a brand since people share the newest offers with their friends and family.
Incentive to be a loyal customer
With the reward point application, people tend to stay loyal customers to get greater rewards over time. But the rewards need to be good enough to keep the customers interested.
Helps engage on the social media
Facebook and Twitter are where most of a brand’s customer base is situated. Potential customers also reside in the digital sphere. Having current customers talk about a brand on their social media helps in increasing exposure and value. Digital rewards do just that by giving customers freebies when they engage with the brand on social media.
The cost of setting up a digital rewards platform takes less money than the traditional card-based loyalty programs. It is also easier for customers to check-up on their points and look for other offers that are available.
As can be seen, ‘digital rewards’ is the new mantra to creating a brand identity that is more personal and effective.
With RewardPort programs, your brand gets higher visibility among its customers.
A recent study showed that customers are 58 percent more likely to tell others about their experience with a brand than they would have done five years ago. One important outlet for this exchange is the social sphere which gives consumers and businesses the opportunity to reach lots of people.
As the taste of consumers align with new market contexts, businesses must look for applicable ways to engage them beyond building traditional relationships. Most customers expect their vendors to engage with them through digital channels. Interestingly, it is not just one channel but an Omni channel approach. This includes the social media, the web, email and other channels.
Small and Mid-size companies must take advantage of these new outlets to drive their brand. The technological and demographic changes that are sweeping across the economic landscape have changed the playing field. Most customers prefer having their questions or problems resolved without needing to talk with a customer service agent. Furthermore, customers want to engage with a brand on their own terms; either through human interaction or a digital channel. Small and Mid-size organizations that do not offer multiple engagement channels may sabotage their relationship with their customers or remain at a competitive disadvantage.
It is important to have a portfolio of services that connect with your customers when and where they want. The Human and digital channels of interaction must be properly optimized. Every business can get a virtual receptionist team which can double as a virtual assistant. They would screen and transfer calls to a representative of a small business based on agreed schedules. Beyond the administrative functions of this team, they can process orders, make outbound calls, answer customer service questions and schedule appointments.
Another important platform is to run an effective digital engagement system. A good digital platform allows your customers to be educated on your business and product offers, amplify the sales process, resolve service issues, connect with prospects, answer customer questions and so much more.
When your Omni channel platform gives an outstanding experience to your customers, they ultimately become your brand advocates. It is essential to buttress the fact that great customer service occurs on multiple fronts. There is no leading brand that can retain a large share of the market by using one channel to reach its audience. Customers need a relevant, compelling and consistent service to remain loyal to a brand. When your business has many advocates pushing its case in the market, it creates a positive impact on your bottom-line.
On the long run, one positive customer experience reduces the number of service inquiries that you get. The customers who are loyal to your brand begin to share their good times with others. The place of good customer service goes beyond the one on one relationship you share with your customers. It is important to entrench your brand and connect with your market through the multiple channels that are available. With a careful forecast, investment and plan, any business can be able to position their brand as leaders with a viable Omni channel framework.
Every sales promotion begins with a business or brand making the right offer. This is true of one-time
marketing concepts that help in boosting your short-term revenue or expanding your business.
The ideal sales promotion offer needs to have the following components:
- Align with your competitive edge
- Creates real value for your clients or customers
- It is relevant
The usual strategy is to go for conventional offers like Discounts , extra of the same product, a related product by the same company or a freebie of excess inventory. Lets look at each aspect
- Discounts – these work always, but to a extent. A brand cannot forever be giving discounts and get identified as “discount” brand.
- Extra of the same product – this is a slightly better strategy than giving discount as it gives a better perceived value to the customer.
- Get a related product – Good if want to sample your new offering that does not conflict with the existing product category
- Give a free from your excess inventory – This may save you some monies but could give the customer a wrong impression if not communicated right.
The new approach to sales promotions is to catch the fancy (and the spend) of your customers by giving them something which is aspirational and has a much higher perceived value. Two things stand out:
- Offer a service – Run a promotion that rewards the customer with something exciting that matches the target profile like Movies, a spa experience or mobile recharge .Something that gives instant gratification and has a high perceived value and is relevant
- Sweepstakes with assured gift – Everybody loves to win. An assured prize giveaway with a chance to win a grand prize appeals to all. A sure win gives instant gratification and gets the brand love and a chance to win big like a car / mobile phone / dream holiday keeps them engaged .
When you have decided on the sales promotion plan that you want to implement, it is important to prop up its message and communicate effectively. This is the point where many businesses miss it in their campaigns and marketing efforts. This failure usually happens in two ways:
- They do not effectively promote their program to their clients and potential customers
- They use the wrong message or marketing tools to reach their audience
- The rewards are not exciting enough
- It’s not easy to get the free gift
A close look at the first point shows that the default sales promotion drive of most businesses is to advertise. However, advertising adds to the expense that an organization incurs. The cost of running a media campaign is high and the returns may not justify the investment made. Research shows that price-sensitive shoppers may be attracted by an advert but may not return to consummate the purchase or transaction.
There are effective ways to drive sales promotion and some of them would be discussed below.
Use your Store effectively: It is ideal to make full use of your store signage to woo buyers to the products you have on offer. The employees can strengthen the stakes by mentioning the promotion to your customers. Employee stickers/tags/buttons can talk about the promotion while promotional flyers can also do a good job. Reminders on receipts or the use of an inexpensive sticker or rubber stamp can help to drive the best returns for your business.
Embrace the Internet: You can give a strong voice to your Sales promotion by highlighting it on the main page of your website. You can create a page that talks about your promotion and draw in a strong following by offering freebies which can help you build lists for future marketing efforts.
The Telephone: Your employees can harp on the promotion to anyone that calls your business or you can change your answering machine message to let customers know about what you are doing.
Email – You are sending out hundreds of emails everyday. Add the promotion to the footer. Its zero cost free media.
There are other powerful media which you can harness to generate the right results for your sales promotion. They include Flyer distribution, use of conventional media and word of mouth. It is important to get the word to as many people as you can through these channels. It is vital to mention that you can have a great sales promotion plan but without a strong marketing base to drive it; no one will know about it and this can lead to failure.
The best sales promotion is simply anchored on understanding your market and driving your plan to bring the returns you desire. There is a thin line between success and failure in this range but following some of the rules listed above would get the job done for you.
A Garter Survey says that 98% marketers say online and offline marketing are merging. What does it mean for offline businesses who are feeling that they are losing out to online businesses? Simply put they have to embrace a O2O – Online to Offline business strategy.
What is O2O or online to offline Marketing?
The best & simplest definition is “A business strategy that draws potential customers from online channels to physical stores.” Online-to-offline commerce, or O2O, identifies customers in the online space, such as through emails and internet advertising, and then uses a variety of tools and approaches to entice the customer to leave the online space. This type of strategy incorporates techniques used in online marketing with those used in brick-and-mortar marketing.” as defined on investopedia.com
Marketers of large companies have moved beyond digital marketing techniques and are expanding marketing’s role to create new digitally led business models. The sweet spot of the physical and digital worlds represents opportunities for marketers to apply customer insights to create and test new digitally led experiences and business models. Baidu and Alibaba are doing this in a big way in China while on demand services companies like AirBnb and Uber have made these into unique business models.
But what does this all mean for the small and medium size business. How do they adjust to this with limited resources?
Here are 10 things sme/msme can do to embrace this change and increase their revenue without too much investment.
- Customer Data
Start collecting data of visitors and buyers. This is the starting point and perhaps the key driver of your O2O strategy. The fancy e commerce valuations you see are mostly driven by data. Merchants need to put in place a system where you collect information such as name, email, mobile number and as you move ahead you can add transaction history and other data points. Reward customers with offers and freebies to share data via website, sms or on paper. A simple tool to start with is www.zoho.com to manage the data.
2. Email and SMS
You have now data of visitors and customers. Segment it. The more data points the better segmentation. This is not very scientific. Just segment it by gender, area, age & transaction initially and then evolve to by birth date, preference, days of visit etc. Reach out to them by email or sms. Update them on offers, invite them to events, and wish them on their birthdays. A good DIY tool for email is MailChimp , ConstantContact. SMS is a very cost effective direct to customer tool .There are local vendors who will provide this service for prices as low as Rs.0.10 per sms
Most likely your customer is on Facebook. Set up your page and get people to like your page. Keep the page active with 4 or more posts a week. Always use images and if possible videos. Unfortunately, now it doesn’t mean that if you post all your fans see your post. So you will need to “boost” you post for a little fee. Use the Audience feature to add your data on Facebook to get people who already know you. This is another effective way to reach out to your prospects and customers. Based on the size of your business it would be a good idea to manage the page yourself for a while and probably engage an agency when your ROI is up. There are many other tools on Facebook to help push your business. Create offers that can be redeemed in-store.
A recent study by Small Business Customer website shows that nearly 60% of Twitter followers buy from an SMB. One way to initiate more traffic to your Twitter business page is by integrating a “follow” button on your website. Once your profile becomes familiar with existing customers, you can tweet to your followers about your upcoming product launches or trade shows and encourage them to retweet about your event. You can consider offering special discounts or freebies to your Twitter followers when they and their friends attend the offline event.
Instagram will soon join the 100 million users club and if you haven’t yet used this innovative visual storytelling platform to meet your business goals, it’s high time you considered it. You can build anticipation among your Instagram community about your upcoming offline event by taking instant photos of your event’s stage being set and so on and post it on the website. Another way is to send exclusive invites to your instagram fans and encourage them to meet up at your store or on the streets and post photos of them using your products or services. It would be a cool idea to host such real life meet-ups among your online community to build your brand offline.
6. Google – Places and Maps
More than 70% of online Google search activity is related to finding local stuff. And nearly 80% of online local searches on Google Places can end up visiting your offline store. It’s time you considered it carefully to build your business. Here’s a way to initiate it. Make sure you have a 100% score on the Google Places listing by filling all details. Optimize your listing description with product/service keywords. Encourage your existing customers to give good reviews on the Google Places & Maps to stand out among your competitors.
7. Strategic Partnerships
Strategic partnership can jointly benefit you and your partner as you can offer value added services to your existing customers. It spreads the marketing load to each partner while promoting their respective products/services. More importantly, your relationship with customers gets strengthened. For example, if you are an offline music training center you can partner with an online music instruments selling website to attract new students. You can distribute to your existing customers a free e-book or an online demo of your product/service that features you and your strategic partner(s). Make use of exclusive online discounts as a way of promoting your partnership among new and existing customers.
With the onset of the Internet of Things, offline businesses can harness it to offer customers a virtual like shopping experience. Take for instance, a fashion clothing store that makes use of iPad or tablets in changing rooms to help customers request various colors and sizes. IOT isn’t just about increasing sales, but leverage it effectively to boost overall shopping experience for your customers. As an offline business, you can access the same level of information just like an online store to improve your new or existing customer’s experience. One way is to follow up data on your customer’s recent online shopping journey and offer special discount on products they looked online. Your message can be something like, “Hello Jenny, the trousers you looked online two days ago is now available at our store at 10 percent off and its available in three additional colors.” The IOT technology can be harnessed to build better relationships with your customers like never before.
Digital/online wallets can now be used not only for online shopping payments, but even for offline businesses. You can make use of this trend, whether you have a food store or a cab services company. Give your customers the freedom to pay through online wallets anytime, anywhere. This can result in increased revenue, as your customers will be long satisfied since they aren’t required to carry cash or plastic cards to make payments when they avail your services or products. So whether you are a small start-up or a growing offline business, you have the option of choosing an extensive range of digital wallet services.
Simply put, there’s no shopper who doesn’t like to get rewarded. A loyalty program should aim at encouraging the loyal engagement of your customers, in other words get buyers to patronize your business. It can’t get any easier than using the digital platform to promote your loyalty program for increased offline revenue with repeat customers. You can reward loyalty points to your existing customers when they subscribe to your online newsletter. You can also reward them when they refer their social network friends to visit your offline store. Another way is to conduct special online loyalty surveys to know more about your customers’ shopping activities both online and offline to gather valuable data. Just ensure the redeem limit is not too steep to reward your customers.
Following all these strategies require time and planning, get a team to work on these and plan accordingly. Similar to online revenue, offline store can gain more profit and revenues by being up to date. All the best!
A customer is not an interruption to our work, but the purpose of it. There may be a controversy about who quoted this, but the inherent truth in the statement can never be contested. Companies spend millions of dollars every year to attract customers, yet they manage to retain very few. Technology can help to bridge the communication gap between customers and brands, yet it threatens to make them lose the human touch. To quote an example from our everyday lives- how many of us have the patience to wait on the IVR until our call is connected to a human customer service representative? Here’s what every business needs to do in order to engage customers in 2015 and retain them for years to come:
- Know your customer…and know him well
When Wally Urtz, a store manager at the Food Emporium in Hastings-on-Hudson, a New York City suburb was transferred to a nearby suburb, the entire village of around 8000 people rallied around him. A manager may seem to be an unlikely person to set off such an emotional outburst, but he represents ‘a dying breed that is being replaced by something that people are resentful to and very unhappy about because the human element is missing’, quotes an article about him in the New York Times (October 26, 2003). Incorporating the human touch in our business isn’t difficult. Simple steps like calling clients, sending them letters/emails, or meeting them in person can go a long way in knowing customers and making them feel special.
- Personalize the experience by using technology to automate communication in a scalable way:
Technology can be used to automate communication. This can be tackled by creating interactive documents and integrating elements such as drop down menus, data feeds, etc.
- Emotionally engage…its beyond offers and discounts now:
Companies are obsessively fighting the price war, yet customers are more fickle than ever. Only those that can move beyond the price tag zone and create real value for customers can survive. As earlier said, know your customers well. And use this information to surprise them and personalize their experience. A discount driven approach cannot sustain for long, but one driven by customer loyalty can. To be successful in customer engagement, make sure that you tweak your business model to rely on loyalty.
- Engage across channels:
A typical modern day customer refers to not less than 6 to 7 communication channels before deciding on a product. Some of them include website content, in store, or social media. Businesses should ensure that information passed through each of these channels shouldn’t be conflicting or ambiguous. Technology can help in this regard by standardizing enterprise wide systems, thereby allowing companies to send out branded messages via emails, SMS’s etc.
- Mobile engagement is most effective…get this right:
Smartphone searches are all set to replace desktop search. Companies are now busy exploiting this trend with location based messages and mobile ads, incorporating mobile SEO and adapting a responsive web design.
- Reward them for actions…even the simplest one:
Don’t we all thrive on attention? Rewarding customers with small surprises can go a long way in creating brand loyalty and increasing customer retention.
- Make customers feel like a VIP:
The easiest way to show that you value customers is by being polite. Words such as ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ often seem insignificant until someone stops using them. Get to know customers interests and wants by using technology such as Google Think Insights and include these habits by publicizing and praising them openly.
- Use technology effectively…build or outsource, but do it:
Technology can be used to get your message across its intended audience. Webinars can be hosted on topical issues, using QR codes, Wi-Fi targeting and arranging virtual meetings are some of the things that businesses can do. If adapting to technology seems an overwhelming task or if you are starved of time, outsourcing is a good option.
- Use the Internet of Things to engage:
Market researchers have predicted that by 2020, more than 212 billion devices are likely to be connected through IoT. To explain IoT in a nutshell, this is a technology that enables people to connect everyday physical objects to the internet, enabling them to communicate with other devices and even transfer data. With IoT, you’d never run out of grocery supplies because your fridge could be preprogrammed to monitor stock and send a message to the local grocer automatically.
- Participatory engagement- involve customer in your next product development:
A new product development need not necessarily involve inventing something new. More often than not, it involves modifying an existing product by eliminating its limitations. Involving customers in this process not only results in better customer engagement, but also ensures that the end result is in line with customer expectations.
Customer engagement needs patience and creativity. Creating brand loyalty is the ultimate goal because this is directly linked to profitability. But without maintaining a fine balance, your efforts are likely to backfire, because you may end up overwhelming him. There may be different ways of engaging a customer, but at the end of the day the main aim of every strategy is to create happy consumers who can promote your products to one and all.